Hey folks, Jon here and today I wanted to delve a little deeper into the reasoning behind some of the design choices we've made in Lithic and give a bit of insight into why we're making it at all. Brace yourselves, it's a long one and may get a touch emotional.
If you're reading this you'll likely know about the studio's failed Kickstarter project which, if this is new news, you can read about here. We weren't disheartened by that failure, we saw the holes in what we were trying to do and set about patching them up. Enter Lithic, a smaller project requiring a slightly reduced budget. With Spirit of Sail then and indeed still now with Lithic we're intent on proving that a tiny studio can create quality, high fidelity games that are relatively large in scope.
Another big reason for making Lithic is that a lot of the underlying mechanics are based around the D20 system. Myself and Tom grew up playing both board games and tonnes of pen and paper RPGs - Dungeons and Dragons especially being a large part of our lives. Tom is in fact (I believe at least) a walking encyclopedia of The Forgotten Realms. We're applying the ideas of heavy lore, character development and the mechanical systems present in a lot of P&P games to the God game genre, blending it up with RTS elements and we're really excited about what comes out at the end. To us making Lithic isn't just about the video game, it's about the universe and creating a unique story for every player - allowing them to tweak their experience to make it feel a little bit more about them and their journey through something we've created. This in no small part reflects the relationship between a DM and their Player characters - the DM creates a world with a back story, possible outcomes and antagonists with evil plans etc, then the players get hold of it and mold it into something special, something which rarely turns out the way the DM expected.
This underlying relationship between Lithic and Pen and Paper RPGs has led to two important and possibly controversial design decisions, heavy automation and permadeath.
Heavy automation in games is normally frowned upon as it can leave the player feeling powerless and frustrated. The automation in Lithic is tied to the characters artificial intelligence and serves to give them a believable persona. When designing the AI the way a individual character feels and their personality was a key component, they meet their basic needs first and foremost and then serve their desires, whether their personal desires coincide with the player's is incidental. With automation, players don't need to tell their characters to go and gather food, or to sleep, eat, drink etc. In Lithic, the AI doesn't just control what a character is doing based on what needs doing, it decides by looking at what the character wants to do, then deciding whether they're going to do what is required of them by the tribe, or whether they're going to do what takes their fancy at that particular moment in time. Just like in Pen and paper RPGs with player characters, they have the option to move away from the Dungeon Master's guided route or to go with the flow. The player's task in Lithic is then to poke and prod their tribe members into doing their bidding and help them win the game, much as a dungeon master subtly guides their questing party towards their desired destination and story arc. This whole thing ties together in what we're really trying to create with Lithic: The game is about the characters, their story and their journey. The player then hopefully gets sucked into the world and the process of shaping the lives of the tribe they've helped grow technologically and culturally over a long period of time - driving them forward, even if sometimes it's done by force. This again, resonates with the relationship between a DM and their players.
Now to address permadeath, whilst it is present in most pen and paper RPGs the reason it's present in Lithic isn't because of some dewy-eyed love letter to Gary Gygax - in fact whilst uncommon for a character to be resurrected, death isn't an absolute in D&D. No, the reason permadeath is a key component in Lithic is simple: It makes characters lives meaningful. I'd argue that games with little or no punishment for a character's death trivialize the concept of mortality, if dying isn't important to the game's narrative - why have characters die at all? As I've said before, when a character dies in Lithic their knowledge and unique personality dies with them. I'd like to think that this adds an extra level of connection between the player and their tribe, creating an emotional attachment to characters means that when they die it's not just the loss of that skill-set that affects the player - it's hopefully also that they miss the character, their foibles and demeanour. This is something that's cropped up already in house: Two test characters we use (namely Dave and Brian) have very different personalities, one's lazy and selfish and the other is proactive and caring. They're very entertaining to watch and we're pretty attached to them, even if they've only just finally evolved from capsules to animated models this very morning!
Thanks for sticking with me on this one, it's been fun to write and I hope it gives a little bit more insight into the theories we're working off in Lithic and the reasons behind the game. If you have any questions please feel free to ask them here or on any of our social media.